Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×

Search

Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Is It Safe to Get Rid of Your Landline?

With tech advancing and 911 problems resolved, old-fashioned telephone lines are becoming more and more rare


spinner image a close up of a cord from an older landline phone
GETTY IMAGES

If you’re finally ready to drop your landline telephone, you could save a ton of money.

In an emergency, a good old-fashioned landline phone has been regarded as the most reliable method of communication. When storms knock out power, cellphone towers often go dark, as do high-speed internet connections.

spinner image Image Alt Attribute

AARP Membership

LIMITED TIME OFFER

Flash Sale! Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Join Now

On the other hand, copper-wire landlines work without power or battery-operated phones. But landlines have become increasingly expensive — and rare.

A single, basic line from AT&T with standard long-distance service can cost $90 a month. And as landline costs have risen — in urban areas the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a 31 percent increase from May 2011 to May 2021 — mobile phone service costs in the same 10-year period decreased by 20 percent.

Landlines have lost some of their vaunted reliability. Phone companies don’t want to support them as they switch to fiber optic cables and have been accused of discouraging landlines, according to customer complaints in California and elsewhere. Getting a landline repaired can take several months.

911 dispatchers’ tools find cellphone users better

More important, 911 support for cellphones and online calls has improved because of advancements in phones, GPS technology, carrier services and dispatching equipment. Emergency services now can easily pinpoint internet calls, and some wireless calls can be traced to within 150 feet or so of your exact location.

One lingering objection to quitting plain old telephone service (POTS) has been the relatively poor audio quality of cell and over-the-internet calls. But two things have changed.

First, the voice quality of internet-based calls, called voice over internet protocol (VoIP), has improved. It often matches and sometimes exceeds the clarity of traditional landlines, according to tests.

Second, everyone else is using cellphones and internet-based phones. That can negatively affect the quality of a call even if you’re on one end with a landline.

Back in 2003 when the National Center for Health Statistics started collecting data on cellphones vs. landlines, nearly 95 percent of adults had a landline. At the end of 2022, fewer than 27 percent of adults reported having a landline, and an overwhelming majority had a cellphone, too. 

Nearly nine in 10 adults ages 25 to 34 have cellphone service alone, according to the National Health Interview Survey that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted July to December 2022. However, only about half of respondents 65 and older had gone completely wireless. 

Hurdles to change are lower than ever

Why the reluctance for traditionalists to cut their landlines?

Since voice quality isn’t as much of an issue anymore, one deterrent is the fear of losing an essential line of communication in an emergency, particularly when the power goes out. Old analog telephones on POTS lines don’t require electricity to make calls.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of such lines of communication. Moreover, the increase in extreme weather has contributed to those concerns — even in not-so-remote areas. One AARP reader in the Houston area noted being out of power for weeks after a hurricane, but their old landline still worked the entire time. 

A lot of people also want to keep their old phone numbers, which is possible, especially if they’re not moving. Your old telephone company must transfer your number to a new provider, including a cellphone service, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The provider is allowed to charge for the transfer but ask if the fee can be waived or lowered.

Landlines fade as price, options increase

Phone companies have been trying to write the obituaries for their own landline services for years. To wit, when you try to sign up for a voice line at a typical rural operator — such as Consolidated Communications, which does business in more than 20 states — you’ll automatically be routed to a page offering VoIP service even though the company still supports plain old telephone service accounts.

Technology & Wireless

Consumer Cellular

5% off monthly fees and 30% off accessories

See more Technology & Wireless offers >

Almost impossible to find. If you search for the best landline service on the web, you’ll be presented with a long list of services from the likes of AT&T, Cox, Spectrum and Verizon Fios — all turn out to be VoIP services. 

And some companies that claim to offer landline services designed for older adults, such as Boston-based Community Phone, are not landline operators but wireless service providers. And they’re not cheap. An eight-step online application process on the Community Phone website reveals that the monthly fee is $66.54.

Prices rise faster than inflation. In October 1995, the national average for a residential phone bill, including a premium for touch-tone service, was $19.98 a month, according to the FCC. Adjusting for inflation, that’s $39.91 in November 2023 dollars. The lowest generally available rate without touch-tone or unlimited local calling was $11.79, $23.55 adjusted for inflation.

The moral of the story: Landlines are going the way of the dodo and pay phones, either from customers abandoning them to save money or phone companies making them scarce. If you haven’t already, you can ditch your POTS line and select a VoIP service that combines cellular service, internet access and a battery backup. In the process, you’ll save around $50 a month, $560 a year or more.

High-speed internet allows clear calls without wires

If you like having a phone that stays at your house, voice over internet protocol services use your home’s high-speed internet connection to place digital phone calls.

Vonage, based in Holmdel, New Jersey, is well known thanks to advertising, and the company offers a long-distance international unlimited calling plan for $27.99 a month plus taxes and fees. Other options: 1-VoIP, AXvoice, Phone Power, Voiply, VOIPo.

An option to bundle. Most cable-television providers also will package a VoIP service with your TV channels. The cable company can save you money by giving you a discount on your cable bill, but the voice service generally is not as sharp as a dedicated VoIP service.

Sunnyvale, California-based Ooma offers several VoIP options designed to allay worries about service disruptions. One typical package is Ooma’s Telo LTE with Battery Backup. It uses a cellular connection to place residential phone calls instead of piggybacking on your internet service. The bundle comes with a cellular antenna about the size of a liquid soap dispenser, a base station that looks like an answering machine, and — critically important — a rechargeable backup battery.

The whole thing costs $129.99 up front for the hardware, about the same price as two months of landline service. Then the service is $19.99 a month for unlimited nationwide calling plus unlimited calls to Canada and Mexico. An international calling plan that includes other countries is an additional $17.99. Plus you’ll pay taxes of $2 to $8 a month depending on your location.

In addition to saving money, Telo LTE automatically gives first responders your home address in a 911 call, part of Enhanced 911 and Next Generation 911 services rolling out nationwide. If power goes out in a storm, the backup battery will keep the phone running for up to 10 hours.

Information for decisions. That can be a godsend when you want to find out what caused the outage and whether you should stay home or evacuate. Conversely, if your home internet goes out, you can use Telo LTE as a backup internet connection. But if you use more than 1 gigabyte of data, you’ll be charged $8.99 for each additional gigabyte.

Over several weeks of testing, Ooma’s call quality was solid for domestic and international calls. Audio quality is better than typical cellphone calls, primarily because the antenna is stationary. Using a smartphone when you’re moving from place to place affects sound quality.

If you want to keep your home phone number, you can transfer it to the Ooma service for a one-time fee of $39.95, and Ooma typically does this within a couple of days. Moreover, you’ll get all the advantages of digital phone service: caller ID, call waiting, follow-me call forwarding, an online call log and voicemail access online.

Telo LTE also works with your existing handset. Just plug it into the Ooma box. And it works with Amazon’s Alexa — “Use Ooma to call my daughter.”

spinner image membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

Join AARP today for $16 per year. Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP The Magazine.

Uninterruptible power supply can help up to 90 minutes

If you’re using a VoIP phone service bundled with your cable or satellite TV package, you’ll need a backup battery to keep your phone working when the power goes out. If the company didn’t provide one, you’ll need something.

Uninterruptible power supply. These gadgets typically look like small toasters or a large hardcover book and have built-in rechargeable batteries that keep electricity flowing to anything plugged into them.

The goal is to keep an internet router and your Wi-Fi home network running for about 90 minutes, enough time to find out what’s going on and contact relatives. Plugging in more devices will mean a shorter usable time:

  • Amazon Basics Standby UPS 800VA, $84.67, Amazon’s house brand.
  • APC Back-UPS 850VA, $139.99, from American Power Conversion by Schneider Electric with headquarters in West Kingston, Rhode Island.
  • CyberPower CP800AVR, $124.95, from Cyber Power Systems (USA), an international company with U.S. headquarters in the Minneapolis suburb of Shakopee, Minnesota.

Wi-Fi plus cellular modem and router. Keeping your internet running if your provider’s service goes out more than you’d like, important for VoIP, also can be a problem. So far, only one company has a solution that is isn’t extremely expensive, and it relies on an older wireless standard.

Netgear’s Nighthawk LAX20 4G LTE Modem + WiFi 6 Router Combo, $199.99, connects to your provider’s high-speed internet connection, but when that crashes, it can switch to a built-in 4G LTE cellular network. The combination modem and router doesn’t support 5G, the latest cellular standard, but for occasional internet outages it will sustain your phone and internet.

Before you cancel, call about deals

Technically, you now can switch from your copper-wire landline to wireless in relative safety. But you may not save as much as you’d think.

For this article, I decided to finally relinquish my landline at my remote rural home. The potential savings looked significant.

My regular bill was $94.40 for voice and digital-subscriber line (DSL) internet service, which uses phone lines but allows use of the telephone and internet simultaneously unlike the dial-up modems popular in the 1990s. The phone service was $61.44 alone, $50.20 for local calls, plus $11.24 for long distance.

Dropping the voice service should have lowered my bill to $32.96. However, the phone company raised its internet rates roughly 30 percent, to $42.96, when I canceled the voice portion because it was no longer part of a bundle. A stationary phone line at the house would be a different, extra bill.

Stopping the voice line also required a new contract. If later I decided I didn’t want internet service, I would have to pay a $129 early cancellation fee. 

So one strategy before changing any landline, VoIP or communications service is to call your existing provider about a better deal.

“I was paying about $16 a month for my Vonage number,” says Caroline Miller, who lives in the St. Louis area. “When I was going to cancel, it was like, ‘Wait, would you like to try one of our cheaper plans?’ ” Now Miller pays just $5.86 a month for unlimited incoming calls and forwards them to her cellphone. 

This story, originally published Aug. 25, 2020, was updated to reflect changes in technology and cellphone use.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?